Raise your hand for a calm flight

February 23, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

AS A GENERAL rule, I don't like a chatty pilot in the cockpit when I fly.

Sure, if we hit major turbulence and the plane starts bucking and diving, I like the pilot to come on the PA system and tell us we're not going to die.

And if we're taking off in a snowstorm or landing on a fog-shrouded runway, I like the pilot to come on and tell us we're not going to die.

See, not dying is a very big thing with me when I fly.

But unless he's reassuring me about not dying, I would just as soon have the pilot shut up.

I bring this up because pilot chatter is back in the news, courtesy of that American Airlines pilot on a cross-country flight who asked his Christian passengers to raise their hands.

Then he invited them to discuss their faith with the other passengers during the rest of the flight.

The pilot was suspended for violating company policy, which probably goes like this: When at 30,000 feet, try not to inflame religious tensions and cause a riot.

Look, I won't even talk religion with strangers in a car on the Beltway, never mind in a Boeing 757 somewhere over the Rockies.

So when I'm on a packed flight going coast to coast, I don't want to know who the Christians are, OK?

I don't want to know who the Jews are. I don't want to know who the Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists are, either.

No, when we're squeezed together in a narrow metal tube careening through the clouds, I want us all to be one big, happy, secular family.

I don't want the fat guy in the next seat to turn to me and say: "Brother, have you been saved?"

I don't want anyone waving the Bible or Torah or Quran at me.

The only waving I want to see is people waving for the beverage cart.

To take this another step further, I'd feel the same way if the pilot on my flight clicked on the PA and started talking about politics.

What's that old saying - never talk religion or politics with strangers?

Me, I'd be a little nervous if we were 25,000 feet over Iowa and the pilot comes on and says: "All right, I want all you liberals to raise your hands. Now you conservative Republicans, I want you to see if you can't talk some sense into those people with their hands up."

Yeah, that would make for a nice, relaxing flight. Tell me the air marshals wouldn't be pulling out their Tasers five minutes later.

The good news is that most airline pilots know better than to bring up anything that might set off any lunatics on the flight already pre-disposed to, say, charging the cockpit or trying to light a fuse in their shoes.

According to the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 66,000 pilots, each airline sets its own policy as to what a pilot should or shouldn't talk about with passengers.

"There's a certain amount of latitude [permitted]," association spokesman John Mazor told me.

And the pilots association itself has no hard and fast guidelines for its members, either.

"It's mostly common sense," Mazor continued. "Picture yourself in an elevator with a bunch of people. You probably wouldn't inflict your [religious or political] views on them, would you?"

Uh, no, definitely not in an elevator.

In fact, I think it's the law that all you can talk about in an elevator is the weather - and then only if you're staring down at your feet or up at the floor indicator.

Anyway, I hope the suspension of that American Airlines pilot serves as a deterrent for any other pilot who suddenly decides he's the Rev. Billy Graham of the skies.

Let's face it: Airline passengers are jittery enough these days without having to listen to sermons over the PA that might incite the nutcases on board.

There is also this: Most airline passengers would probably prefer that their pilot, instead of thinking about the next soul he's going to save, remain concentrated on all those gauges and lights and instruments on the control panel.

That way he'd be a lot less preoccupied if, for instance, something unpleasant should occur, such as the no. 2 engine flaming out.

In which case, I'd prefer that he not come on the PA system with the news.

That would definitely be one of those times when ignorance is bliss.

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